Is it possible to encode empathy into artificial intelligence? How can we tap that lever of productivity? Minter Dial, the author of Heartificial Empathy, discusses the untapped lever of productivity in business. He suggests practicing being empathetic to yourself before you can encode empathy effectively. One of the key takeaways of this conversation is the awareness of difficulties and limitations to emphasize daily. Dive into this episode and learn more from this special guest.
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Heartificial Empathy: Putting The Heart Into Artificial Intelligence With Minter Dial
I’m excited to have Minter Dial, Speaker and Author. He is the author of Heartificial Empathy. We’re going to be jumping into that, but first, I want to introduce you to Minter. He’s been on two times. This is his second time on Authoring Life and a little bit about Minter. He’s a professional speaker, storyteller, consultant, and veteran executive with many years in a high-profile career at L’Oréal. He’s a specialist on leadership, branding and new technologies.
He’s regularly cited as a major brand influencer. His book, which we talked about last time, is called You Lead, and now we’re going to be jumping into Heartificial Empathy. What I’m excited about is this is the second edition of a book. The first edition won a Book Excellence Award in 2019 and was a finalist for the Business Book Award of 2019. Now, he’s coming back with a second edition. Welcome back, Minter. How are you?
Alicia, I am in great shape here in my little place in London. Probably, less fun and less sunny than your place in Miami, but I’m happy to be talking about this. For me, it’s an important topic and it gets me completely motivated.
We were talking about that, being motivated and wanting to contribute and give back, and this is a give-back for you. You are a prolific writer and author. I’m glad to have you back. I’m curious. This is from the standpoint of being an author. What made you take the first edition of the book, Heartificial Empathy, and write and refresh and create this new version of this book?
As I was sitting on it, I was writing other stuff and I kept on seeing new books being written about empathy. It’s got to the point where hundreds of new books have come to the market with the word empathy in it. I was looking at it as like, “This is a hot topic.” I was also reflecting on how maybe the ideas around empathy have been evolving and maybe sometimes need a little bit of re-guiding.
I had this idea of reshaping somehow what I thought of empathy and why and how empathy can be useful in society. Secondly, then there’s all the stuff that’s happened in AI and how the encoding of empathy into a machine has taken a step change. Although it’s far from being able to perfectly encode empathy, AI has so changed.
The third thing which is probably the most relevant in society is the massive change in context that’s happened since 2018. When I wrote the book, originally, I did it for therapy for myself because I’d lost a best friend. I was like, “This is what I’m going to do. I want to try at a different angle.” I thought of my friend and the idea of empathy and accompanying him in his last moments. My difference was I’m going to talk about empathy and AI.
Little did I know that years later, the idea of humanizing AI would become such a real possibility. We’re putting in human qualities into AI and this notion of in this new context in mental health. The massive impact that the different things have had on our psyche, whether it’s the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the sociopolitical strife, geopolitical tensions or economic turmoil.
There are a lot of reasons for people to feel less good and I had two feelings. 1) We need to look at how AI can be a therapeutic solution. 2) A little bit more hardcore, how can we go upstream and stop having so much mental health issues as opposed to resolving the issue at the backend? What can we do as a society upfront to be better?
You addressed a lot in that response.
I’m sorry, but that’s it.
You do not need to be sorry. We get to unpack it. You’re a futurist and I know technology is one of your expertise. You speak into AI and the importance of more humanity and what the implications of society with AI. We’re already reaping some of the consequences of AI. There are wonderful consequences and impact in terms of being able to create things quicker in terms of writing and people are losing their jobs. I want you to speak into that because you’re the expert. You said the change in context. Can you please unpack that a little bit and what that looks like with AI?
There are so many levels and nuances in it, but let’s say the people at work have all discovered that hybrid remote work is now possible. Whereas it was a mandate before, it’s now an option. If you’re running a business, how do I variably provide the option and still be effective and productive and performing at work? You can’t just, “Everybody do what they want.” That’s not practical.
This context now, how do you empathically do what you need to do? Empathy isn’t about being nice. It’s being smart and understanding the context of everybody. We’ve had all the pandemic, the issues of mental health concerns, of sanitation, and that lingering concern. How do you now convert to this new world of work in a way where you can still do the business, be customer focused, get the customers that are happy and prepared to pay you, and accommodate your employees?
Make them feel like it’s worthwhile to get in a car and commute to work, go into an office, which doesn’t have the beautiful view on your garden and do the work with colleagues you don’t necessarily all like? How do you make all this happen? That’s an example of the real shift in context that we have and where empathy can play a role if you’re a leader.
The stakes are higher as you were speaking into. Even a conversation that I had with a colleague that there’s this hierarchy emerging from the people who stay at home, work remotely and the ones that go into work. There’s a lot of nuance and complexity with this new work environment and what’s being ushered in. It feels like in the last few years, we’ve done so much growth and it’s exponential in terms of change.
I think people are still grappling with the changes that are happening and happening quickly. I wanted to speak to you in regards to your book. What are some tools or lessons that you can share? Please provide more context for people out there who are sitting around and saying, “What happened? What world do we live in?” What world are we looking forward to living in? What’s the future?
Having a North Star is the most powerful thing to guide you and navigate in this crazy world because it’s very easy to be blown off course. I feel that you have so many choices, tech and options and you can work anywhere. You can be anything, except too much choice isn’t such a good thing. I think a lot of people suffer the consequences of not having a good guiding star.Having a North is the most powerful thing – a North Star to guide you and navigate in this crazy world because it's easy to be off course. Click To Tweet
As a result, they’ll run around. For example, I think of people who have on their phone thousands of unanswered emails. That’s a real problem. I think of people who are always late or who are always saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get a chance to. I don’t have time to.” That may be very genuine. The thing they miss, they’re very sorry about missing. However, life is about dealing with limitations.
If you’re in business, it’s called strategy. Otherwise, it’s called life. You can’t do everything with everybody all the time, everywhere. How are you going to be the architect of your life, be the controller of your life, rather than the victim of another ping, notification, or another choice that will seem interesting and justifiable?
I think this is, for me, the biggest and most important thing that people need to do and because they’re not doing it, they’re being run around. They feel frustrated because they’re doing so much, but they’re not getting to where they want to get. They feel upset and depressed because I’m not being able to fix the whole world. I’m not being able to do all these things that I want to do. You can’t do everything, so you have to wind back and you can’t put a hashtag for every single cause out there. You need to be more focused on what you want to achieve in your life, with whom and what’s important to you, and be more incisive as to what that looks like as opposed to, “Generally, I want to do good.”
What I’m hearing you say is that people get to have a North Star and that will push away everything else in their life and their existence. The last months of my life have been my book and anything else. I saw distractions coming into place and I was like, “I need to focus on my book.” That has given me a purpose because I know that I’ll do more with this book once it comes out than I could do with anything else where I have diffused or distracted energy. Having a North Star, that’s what I’m hearing you say. What else? What are you encouraging people to do in Heartificial Empathy?
There’s a second big piece, which is practicing empathy. Before you go to the idea of encoding empathy, the only way you’re going to encode effectively empathy is by being yourself empathic. There are different tips that I look at, but start looking at when you talk to somebody, listening to them. The best part of any conversation is listening deeply and like you did with me, Alicia, you reformulated. You said, “This is what I heard you say.”
It’s something that we don’t typically do in society. We jumble in, wait to interrupt, drive in with my questions, tell you my agenda, and maybe get passionate about what I’m feeling about as opposed to leaning into what the other person’s saying. This type of deep listening is useful anywhere. It’s useful with people you have a fight with. It’s particularly useful with people who you’re very close with because you tend to jump to conclusions the more you know somebody because you think that you already know what they’re going to say.
Rather than jump in and say, “I know what you’re going to say.” You cut them off, which I do, by the way, with my wife far too often or what I hear you say is this and lean into that and try to understand them or read fiction, talk to people you’re not used to talking to in a way that you have time because you have to dedicate some time.
Anyway, the second big piece is learning about your own ability. Once you’ve figured out who you are, your North Star, it gives you more time to be present, be a better listener, and think more about the empathy piece. Not necessarily all the time with everybody, but more is what I’m asking for.
What I hear you saying is empathy is number two and people leaning into that muscle of empathy is something important. One thing that I discuss with the emergence and the domination of AI, what we’re experiencing now, is that’s what we have to offer as humans. We get to double down on our humanity. We get to double down on empathy and connection with others because otherwise, we don’t have anything. We’re not crunching numbers anymore and not even writing books anymore. We might be formulating and being creative and these tools are making it so much easier and so we get to have time. All of this technology is getting rid of the busy work for us to do what we’re meant to do and that’s be human.
Maybe the third piece, Alicia, I wish you’d referenced before. Ultimately, we now have the AI piece. First of all, the idea of encoding empathy into AI is interesting because it is a reflection back on who we are. When you look at all the things that are having chat GPT, the large language models and everything, they’re a reflection of us and it’s messy and it’s not perfect. We get surprised when it doesn’t give us the exact right answer. Do you mean everybody always gives the exact right answer? No, there’s storytelling, lies, lack of information and that happens in real life.
We need to think of it more as an interesting reflection back on who we are, and then jobs. The reality is technologies have happened in the past and they will happen again, and very few people are driving horse buggies and the people converted. You have to level up or change your skillsets in some cases dramatically. That’s the way we survive by adapting. I think the key point here is, I would say, don’t put your head in the sand and think, “I can retire without this effect on me.”You have to level up or change your skillsets in some cases dramatically. That's the way we survive – by adapting. Click To Tweet
It’s going to come very quickly and it’s going to impact everybody. Get used to that idea. Start getting a little bit more agile, start asking advice if you don’t know anything about it, find people and try stuff out. It’s not complicated and not even expensive. It’s free to give it a whirl and see how it can be a great assistant to augment you, maybe in your current job, or how it could tease you into some North Star, another job that would be satisfying for you.
Let’s talk about mental health because you brought that up at the beginning when we jumped in. I would like to hear from you. With the book, how do you address mental health? What are some tips that you give our readers?
I came to this idea about writing about it through the filter of having two children who went to school through the pandemic and lived the Zoom life and then hearing from them of a large number of their friends and classmates who were suffering from mental health, that through the pandemic. It got me thinking. Obviously, we’ve got the good news about a higher awareness. At the same time, we also have hugely increasing numbers of people with mental health conditions.
It’s like, “We’re aware and talking,” but 25% of young kids or under 24 are feeling depressed. That’s quite a lot. It’s certainly more than in the past. I have to believe it’s not just about awareness. It’s something else that’s happening. I wanted to put my nose into this piece and discuss with various people, psychiatrists and psychologists, and kids why and how we’ve got to this point.
Clearly, in the Western world, there’s a big issue, which is that demand has outstripped the supply of psychotherapy. That’s badass that we couldn’t find a psychotherapist who is willing to take on a new rendezvous in our locale. We have the benefit of Zoom, but that’s not the same. It got me thinking, “What are the solutions?” There are two. One is maybe we can compensate for the lack of sufficient psychotherapists by eventually creating and crafting a therapeutic AI that’s going to be able to, at 2:00 in the morning, be on call.
During the day, according to the processing power and memory, able to connect with millions of people as opposed to the limitation of one-on-one therapy. We’re not there yet, but I wanted to dig in. I spoke to a number of individuals and startups who are specifically working on that like Hume.ai, Empathic.ai, Cyrano.ai, all these different organizations.
I was in the Florida Keys with my friend who is the founder of an app called Wingman. It’s AI to support people who are in recovery. If they want to get a drink, they say, “I want to get a drink. Where’s the next liquor store?” The AI will speak back to that and say, “You don’t want to do it.” They know how many coins. There are coins in AA. I find that interesting because you said that the need has outspent the actual people out there to be able to deliver that service that we need to scale. We need to scale therapy. We need to scale people’s access to mental health resources and those might be AI friends.
The thing with that is that you might be scared. You might have a big cynicism with regard to all that and I think that’s healthy to have cynicism because there are lots of, let’s say, capitalistic things that might happen that might not be perfect. However, it’s also the case that we don’t have enough supply. By the way, we’re not there yet for most of the therapy.
This therapeutic AI in the right hands will provide a better option at 2:00 in the morning when you’re feeling suicidal and there’s nobody else to call. I think there’s a valid space for this. Naturally, it’s going to be complicated and it’s not going to be perfect, but by the way, we aren’t. Not all therapists provide perfect solutions and make everybody perfectly happy right away. It’s work that you have to do within yourself, be inspired, and you feel listened to.
It’s more like guardrails. You get to do the work and pierce some support and some resources.
I love the idea of Wingman. I love it because it sounds like it’s a AA but also for the military. There are so many issues with returning veterans. The other thing I have been exploring but didn’t delve into is the role of psychedelics in mental health. Something I’m very practiced in myself and I thoroughly recommend is if there are issues of addiction, depression, fear of death or anxiety, there are so many important pathologies that psychedelics in the right hands, it’s psychedelic-assisted therapy, different states or different countries that are possible to approach mental health.
The other piece, Alicia, which I want to circle back on, while we might find solutions to remedy the issue, the question I wanted to and addressed in the book is to look at why this is happening in the first place. While the easy thing would be to say, “It’s great we’re being more aware,” it doesn’t feel like it’s good that we have so much awareness, if you will. What is it that we need to do to avoid having so much fear and anxiety?
The first piece is to get to know yourself better because if you don’t know yourself, it’s very easy to be thrown off course and be fearful. The second is reconnect. This, for example, means reconnect in person. Don’t expect a Zoom call to be the same as an in-person call where you hug, shake hands, smell, and sense each other. Reconnect with nature, go out for a walk, and put your hands in the dirt.Get to know yourself better, then reconnect with nature. Click To Tweet
Don’t think of dirt as dirty. Think of dirt as the essence of life and see it under your fingernails and get excited by that dirt, not fearful of the virus or some bacteria or something like that. We’ve sanitized our lives. We’ve created this environment of protection and life is about enjoying adventure. If your adventure has no risk, there is no adventure. A life without adventure for me is not life. It’s reconnecting into that style that’s a little bit more old-guard.
It’s what I hope we can bring more into life without necessarily ruining and making everything dangerous. Let’s come back to a little bit more of that playing in the streets, contact sports, getting your hands dirty and stop being so risk-averse and so sanitized because without awareness or exposure to that dirtiness, then we’re not prepared for life because life is full of crap and you got to deal with it.
I appreciate you saying that. There has been an aversion of risk that you’re talking about. As I’m writing my book, I’m thinking through, and you’ve thought this through with your book and you have another book coming out, is that people don’t want to do the work. We get to do the work. Part of my book is about relationships and how to talk to your enemies. Some people are like, “I don’t want to talk to my enemies.”
It takes too much energy.
“I’ll get harmed. I don’t want to do it.” On the other side of talking to your enemy is the next level of your personal growth and evolution, and so we get to do the work. It might feel like emotional labor or exhaustion. If we don’t stand for ourselves and stand for other people and sit with them in that time of discomfort, disease, and difficult conversations, we will never get to the other side, so we’re always taking shortcuts. We get to be in it and it gets to be dirty, as you mentioned before.
It gets to be uncomfortable and we get to be in it. That’s important. I’m excited to have this conversation with you because I think it’s important to have because we want to judge, we want things to be easy and life is going to be showing us that. I think life, in general, has shown us it’s not easy with the things that we go through, but we get to pull up our pants and do the work. I don’t know why the pants are down. We get to pull ourselves together and do the work. That’s what I meant to say. With that, I want to jump into the speed round with you. You were sharing some beautiful life lessons from your book, Heartificial Empathy: Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence, which we were talking about. I want to hear from you, Minter, what is your legacy?
I hope that my legacy is that I always sought to elevate the debate. I want to insert more meaningfulness. I’m not looking for the complete 100% but more meaningfulness in business because business is a great way of changing the world. More meaningfulness in our conversations into our family life. I think that includes, by the way, Alicia, having tougher conversations.
The one that comes to my mind as you say that, and maybe it’s because I’m looking at it, it’s The Old Man and the Sea. You have a beautiful painting behind you and I think that maybe has sparked my mind. That, generally, is a wonderful book by Hemingway in the Keys. My favorite book is Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. It’s got the writing soul in it and also the Slavic soul. I’m a Russophile, learning Russian. The love story, the tragedy because it’s got real stuff and grit and dirt in there and yet it inspires me.
I appreciate a fiction book and you mentioned before that I haven’t gotten to the point of my life where I’m a fiction book reader. I’m so still in the nonfiction world. I think that’s because it’s what I’ve been doing. I appreciate you doing that because the next level of my growth is creativity and imagination. Favorite author?
What I typically will talk about is James Joyce. I studied literature when I was in university, so this was my thing. The way his knowledge or his use of words, the imagery he used, I loved the portrait of a young man as an artist. That caught me because I definitely have my creative artistic side. James Joyce’s Ulysses. Somehow, it’s the romance of the Irish character. I’m going to Dublin to have a romantic getaway. That’s James Joyce.
I was an English literature major as well, so I remember that time. I’ve left it behind to be entrenched in the nonfiction world and I look forward to it.
Who’s your favorite author, Alicia?
When I think about English literature, I think about some of the greats and these are poets like Chaucer. My favorite book would be a nonfiction book. I’m trying to think now. I’m listening to a great book now that I highly recommend. I had to look it up in my Audible. I’m into books around conflict and the intersection of morality, politics and religion. I would say religion is something I’m interested in and human psychology. This is a good book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.
Who wrote that?
This is by Jonathan Haidt. He’s a professor.
He’s brilliant. Jonathan Haidt also wrote the book, The Coddling of the American Mind.
Yes, very good. Let’s talk about what you are writing next. We were talking about that before we pressed record.
I’ve published three books because when I did Heartificial Empathy, I wrote it in French as well. I translated my leadership book into French. My current state of zaniness is trying to sell three books that are published. For those of you who speak French, you can go check them out but the new book is going to be, it’s called Dialogos, and I did something crazy.
You being a Lit major, you’ll appreciate this. I decided to write this book in the style of Charles Dickens. Not in the literal style but in the idea of publishing one chapter a week and I’ve done it for 65 weeks essentially. Every Thursday at 5:00 PM, I drop a chapter. The experience is writing this book over a prolonged period of time. It’s about conversation. It’s called Dialogos on Substack.
I can have conversations about conversations between the chapters. I try to provoke conversations with the conversations and allow for that to impact me and fluidly move along over 65 or so weeks. That’s the book. I also have the next book as well. It’s already in the works. I’m negotiating that with a publisher. I’m in a super creative mode and that’s the truth.
With you sharing that you dropped a chapter once a week, where can people find out more about you and get on your email list so they can get notified?
Thank you, Alicia, for the offer. I’m on Substack. My Substack is Minter.Substack.com. The name of my Substack is Dialogos. I wanted to mention another thing, which is fun. In the realm of connecting, I’ve got with a group of four other writers that we connected randomly. We all felt the desire to help one another as writers. We’re a little band of five and we created and called the Createll Collection. We’re talking together about empathy and writing from very different standpoints.
We have a rich diversity of minds in the five of us living in different countries. No one lives in the same place, whether it’s England or France or California, Boston and Vermont. I think that’s our spread. We have so much fun. That’s our little hat tip. It’s the idea of getting with other people, being of service without saying, “What’s it for in terms of money?” We’re throwing it out to the world and see what happens, like a message in a bottle. I’ve had so much fun. Every other week, chatting with these people. We’ve connected and never met. I’ve met one of them, Samuel, but never met any of them. These are the types of things we need to do to get back that sense of gritty relationships, doing stuff that makes you feel enlightened and uplifted.
I am feeling your energy, Minter. This is awesome. We are in a transition. It feels like the old ways are gone and we are at a new juncture where there is an ability for more play and more adventure. I don’t want to say this lightly, but the work of yesteryear, like the busy work, will eventually be automated. It will be delegated in a way that we can get back to being humans and connecting with others and playing in the dirt, having time for connection, taking care of elders and kids. I see people demanding that now. They’ve had a smell and a sniff of freedom, what that looks like.
We are co-creating a new future by acknowledging what didn’t work, focusing on what’s working, and being a demand for that. Eventually, if it doesn’t work for your lifestyle, then you’ll have to fall away or computers will get to do it. I feel a new wave coming and it’s exciting, exhilarating and uncertain. It’s exciting to talk about this with you. I’ve got my juices flowing and I’m excited about creating as well.
Let’s keep it that way because there are a lot of grim negative thoughts things out there, but if we have a good North Star, as you did with your book, and reconnect to these things, it will give back energy to us. I think that’s what’s cruelly missing in our lives now.
We figured out how people can find out more about you. Did you share your website?
I didn’t. That’s easy. MinterDial.com is where you can get everything. I’ve got my blog and my podcast where I hope to have you on again soon, Alicia. My books are all there. It’s mostly on Amazon and that kind of stuff. I love for people to, if they could, read it and even rate it, even if they don’t like it. That’s okay. Say what you think about the books because that interaction is the real payoff for me.
Can you give one last piece of advice for our leaders at home from your book, Heartificial Empathy?
Breathe. You do it so unconsciously but breathe into your lungs, feel yourself, and take a breath before you do anything next. Maybe breathe more and think more consciously about your breath. Breathwork is a beautiful way to stay in touch.
Minter, I want to thank you so much for sharing your knowledge in your book. Your book is available at bookstores and the biggest online bookstore as well, so find it where you can. It’s also available on his website. Minter, thank you so much for being here. It’s been great to have you.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much, Alicia.
All the best.
- Heartificial Empathy
- You Lead
- The Old Man and the Sea
- Doctor Zhivago
- The Coddling of the American Mind
- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
- Substack – Dialogos
- Minter Dial’s Previous Episode
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